When my son was three months old I joined a group for new mothers led by a wise and wonderful woman named Tandy Parks. Tandy was our guiding light in those first confusing, shape-shifting months, offering a place for us to ask our questions, share our stories, and find our way onto more solid ground. During one meeting we were talking about how uncertain we felt as new mothers, about how many questions we had and so few answer, and we wondered if we would ever feel confident as mother. Reassuringly, she said that eventually, sometime in the first year, every woman finds her “mother-legs.”
Mother-legs: I loved that phrase immediately. Like a sailor on a stormy ocean, guided by the North star of mother-love, set alight by the sun of the new baby, new mothers often feel the unsteadiness of sea-legs day-in and day-out as they navigate the utterly foreign waters of motherhood. I was no different. The barrage of questions attacked my brain incessantly leaving me to wonder at times if I had what it took to be a mother. I second-guessed and doubted myself constantly. I wondered if that thing called “mother’s instincts” that I’d heard so much about had somehow decided to skip me.
The early weeks were such a tumult of self-doubt and confusion that I hardly felt like a mother at all. But as my self-trust grew, so did my mother-identity. After a few weeks, changing his diaper wasn’t so daunting. And after nine weeks, my son and I finally got the hang of nursing. While initially feeling quite intimidated, I eventually figured out (with the help of my husband) all of the so-called conveniences of modern motherhood: the collapsible stroller (how do I work these buttons?), the travel car seat (how does this click in and out?), the baby Bjorn (so many darn buckles and strap!), then a series of other equally confusing slings. By about three months, a sturdy, dark root of confidence attached itself to the soil. By six months, after finding that I could soothe Everest myself instead of pawning him off on my husband, learning to honor and advocate for Everest’s temperament, rhythm, and moods, and discovering a level of patience and endurance I never knew I had, several supple leaves of self-trust sprouted out. And by about nine months, the self-trust bloomed into a soft, purple flower of self-esteem as I realized that, not only was Everest physically surviving, but he was emotionally thriving as well. That’s not to say that I didn’t have any more questions or that I was never challenged by motherhood. Rather, more often than not, I found that I had the answers to my questions, and the challenges didn’t feel as daunting. The plant of my mother-identity had finally taken solid root. I had found my mother-legs.
Through my years of research and client work, I’ve come to see that the solid formation of a mother-identity largely hinges on self-trust and confidence. For women whose self-trust is strong, they coast into the mother-role quite smoothly, even if the other areas the can be challenging during the first year – physical recovery, prone to depression or anxiety, lack of community – are present. For the rest of us, the evolution of this identity can be slow and the ride quite bumpy. But for everyone, at somewhere between nine months and a year, the new mother finds that she’s no longer walking drunkenly in a never-ending sea of questions but she begins to trust her own knowing, her innate instincts, the storehouse of answers that live inside her, inside all of us, activating our dormant instincts and connecting us with a braided and unbreakable rope to the genetic line of mothers who have successfully raised babies since the dawn of womankind, linking us to the knowledge that is our birthright as women.